For sale: George Washington's personal copy of the Constitution
Christie's in New York City brought the artifact to Washington on Tuesday and will have the book on display in New York before putting it up for auction June 22. The item, which includes notes on the duties of the president, is expected to sell for $2 million to $3 million.
"We can learn a great deal from the first president and his accomplishments," said Chris Coover, senior specialist of the manuscripts department at Christie's.
Washington's personal copy of two of the most important U.S. documents is dated at 1789 and one of four books of a similar nature. Richard Varick, John Jay and Thomas Jefferson each possessed personalized copies of the documents. Washington's book has had eight owners. H. Richard Dietrich Jr. was the last. A Pennsylvania businessman, Dietrich purchased the book in 1964.
"It's a remarkable ensemble of text," Coover said. "It says a lot about the man and the era."
The book is roughly three-quarters of an inch thick with a bright brown calfskin cover. It not only features Washington's signature but also personal notes, written in the margins of the text, and Washington's personal bookplate displaying his family crest.
David J. Bobb, director of the Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in D.C., said Washington tried to ensure the country was able to establish itself while he was president, and that everybody paid heed to the Constitution because he paid heed to it. This is evident in the nature of his notes in the book.
"He was teaching," Bobb said.
Bobb described Washington as a man whom others respected and revered, even among his contemporaries. He was ambitious for the right things, Bobb said, a man of deep conviction and faith, and a man who shaped his character according to his commitment to civil and religious liberty.
"The reason why he was indispensable is that he didn't act like he was," Bobb said.
Christie's has come across few other significant documents of this caliber in the past, including the original manuscript of president Abraham Lincoln's election victory speech.
"You couldn't make a more desirable relic of George Washington," Coover said of the book. "It's the genesis of the American Republic.""
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